Game on – later. For the second time in as many months, the Gulf South Conference has delayed its 2020 fall sports schedule to 2021.
Last month the GSC delayed the beginning of football, volleyball, soccer, and cross-country until September or October.
“The [athletic directors] met and made some recommendations that was a little different than what we thought,” said UWF Athletics Director Dave Scott. “The main thing is the health and safety of the student-athlete. Fall is going to be a real challenge with the pandemic and the guidelines set forth.”
With fall sports now scheduled to overlap with winter and spring sports in the GSC, Scott says the resulting landscape remains to be seen.
“Our preference would probably be to have some kind of normal spring with scrimmages and outside competition, but it’s not a fall championship season like you would normally see,” Scott said. “I don’t think at this point you want student-athletes to utilize their eligibility, but you want to create opportunities and a good experience to continue to improve their skills.”
“Very disappointed, obviously for our seniors, our fans and all our players,” said Head Football Coach Pete Shinnick. “But, get over the initial disappointment and now it’s an opportunity to move on and find a way to continue to grow as a program.”
For Shinnick, who started the Argo program from scratch and began play in 2016, it’s comparable to 2014 and 2015 -- having a team but not having games.
“It’s definitely helpful to have that experience and know what a long fall looks like without games,” Shinnick said. “With that being said, this is a little different because we’re not dealing with a bunch of freshmen like we were in ’15. We feel like we learned some good things during that time and we feel like we have a pretty good plan that we can put in place.”
Still to be determined are the training and practice schedules to prepare for the delayed season – if it happens.
“We’re still waiting to see what the time line will be and what we’ll be cleared to do,” said Shinnick. “This fall will probably be more like an additional spring. We’ll map out a plan that puts our guys in the best position to continue to grow, develop, and to get better.”
“We want you guys to play; we want to make sure that folks know that we value the opportunities for our athletes in the state of Florida. Taking that away would do lasting damage.”
The GSC’s decision comes as Gov. Ron DeSantis called for college football to be played this season, especially in Florida and the South. He contends that student athletes are safest on campus, surrounded by teammates.
“Let’s just be clear. If you don’t have sports, it ain’t like there is not going to be activities going on with college students,” said the governor. “In fact, it will be unsupervised. It will be unstructured. So, just from a corona perspective, you would want the kids, I think, in the athletic program.”
DeSantis spoke Tuesday at Florida State University -- on the day Florida set a new daily record for COVID-19 deaths with 276.
“We hated to hear the news on one front’ on the second front, [UWF] will continue to be [Division-II national champions for another year,” said Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson. “We will be the 2020 default champions.”
With no Argos football this fall, the loss will be felt by downtown businesses – restaurants, bars, and other places – that will not have the crush of people on game day. But Robinson said that was probably a moot point anyway.
“Although it does appear most sporting events weren’t going to have people one way or the other,” said the mayor. “So even if we had football there’s a very real likelihood that much of the ancillary business that we had downtown – the vibrancy – would have been lost anyways, in the sense that those individuals would not have been coming to the game.”
Amid efforts to keep businesses open during the pandemic, the jury is still out on the impact of a lost football season in relation to the local economy.
“We’re trying to figure out what that does mean economically, with all the other things we’ve got going on,” Robinson said. “We’ve been very focused on trying to keep businesses open; we want them to be open, we want people to have safe places to work, and be able to get commerce done. All of that is very important to what happens in the city of Pensacola moving forward.”
The Gulf South is among the latest to ponder moving fall sports to the spring or The PAC-12 is also taking that action, while others -- the SEC and ACC among them -- are said to be weighing their options.